Aussies hoping World Cup call won't be premature
Andrew Crews' wife has her hands full at the moment. She has just given birth to a baby daughter and she has no husband to help out. Conforming to the usual stereotype of sports mad Aussies, you could say she only has herself to blame - she brought forward the Caesarean so that her husband could keep goal for Australia in the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Rio de Janeiro 2005. He is expecting to be rather busy in the next few days too.
While Australia can boast some of the best beaches in the world, the grass game has held precedence over its sand-based cousin. In fact, until April the country didn't have a team to speak of. That all changed when the Football Federation Australia (FFA) was invited to Rio. They appointed Alex Tobin - the Australian record caps holder in football and coach Adrian Santrac to form a team.
"Yeah, I got a call from the Federation to put a team together at pretty short notice. We put the word out and had a practice on Manley Beach in Sydney and picked a squad from there. They've got a lot to learn in a short space of time but we hope we're getting there," says Tobin who will act as assistant coach.
"I'm lucky that I've got a kids sandpit at home. I've been doing a lot of practice in there, taking on my kids and that. So things have been alright for me," joked defender George Souris, the oldest member of the squad at 35-years-old.
So, having played no competitive matches it's fair to say the Aussies are up against it. But Santrec thinks their fiercely competitive nature should help: "We haven't played any proper matches yet - we played a friendly against Thailand on Copacabana on Thursday which we lost 3-0 but it was a great learning experience for the guys. The squad has come together really well in such a short space of time. A lot of the guys know each other anyway, they've played against each other at home so they're getting on great as a squad and learning all the time."
And they will have to learn fast. Their group contains two of the best Beach sides - France and Argentina. The Australians are certainly not looking to make up the numbers but they are realistic about their chances. "I've got an obligation to make the team as competitive as possible, but given the circumstances I don't think we can expect too much. Having said that, you've got to start somewhere, and this is a fantastic opportunity for a part of the game which really has the potential to grow," says Tobin who once swapped shirts with Eric Cantona after "kicking lumps out of him" when they met in an international during his long playing career.
Both coaches and players are having to adapt to the sand. All the players have played football professionally but they are finding that playing on the beach requires different techniques. "The sand is a great leveller…(Santrec reflects on that thought for a moment) …although it does favour those who know how to play on it…!" he jokes. Typically positive, Tobin sees an advantage which Brazil's beaches have compared to the Sydney coastline: "They have much finer sand here in Rio - there is a lot more 'give' in the beaches in Sydney so we're actually finding it a lot easier."
How much easier will be seen when they line up on Sunday against the French. For now they are enjoying training, loving Rio and displaying their friendly, out-going side to the locals. In fact as our pictures show, they integrated particularly well with the practising Brazilian dance troupe...
Copacabana Beach shelves sharply into the Atlantic Ocean - it's a famously sharp curve. Come Sunday morning Eric Cantona and his French team will show just where the Aussies are on their own steep curve - learning the very special skills required for Beach Soccer.